How to Find the Right Home Health Care Agency

When the time arrives to seek outside home health care for your loved one, emotions and uncertainties can prevail. Thankfully, there are reputable sources of information and services available. According to Tilly Gambill, Manager of Marketing and Communications for the American Association for Homecare, "Finding the right agency can be a daunting task, but it is not impossible."

Your search for the right agency may be similar to this family's experience:

Marilyn is a 72-year-old widow who recently underwent heart angioplasty surgery. She is preparing to leave the hospital soon, but recovering from open-heart surgery is a long process, and her family knows she will need continued medical assistance once she gets home. The family must find a reputable home agency that can provide licensed nurses as well as aides to tend to Marilyn on a daily basis.

"People often receive home services following a hospitalization or care in other care settings. Usually the hospital discharge planner or social worker provides information on area agencies," Gambill says. "Ask the hospital for a list of home health care agencies in your community. Physicians, friends, and family can recommend agencies, as well."

Make every effort to acquire at least two references from the hospital or other sources. Also consider personal references for private caregivers or companions.

Questions to Ask Home Care Agencies

To help them select the right home health provider, the National Association for Home Care suggests asking the following questions about the agency, associated expenses and the individual professional.

  • How long has the agency been in business?
  • What are their qualifications and experience?
  • Is the agency evaluated and accredited by a governing agency such as The Joint Commission's Home Care Accreditation Program? (The Joint Commission accredits and certifies nearly 21,000 health care organizations and programs in the United States. They are an independent, not-for-profit organization.
  • Is the agency licensed and bonded by the appropriate authority?
  • Can the agency provide references? Ask for a list of doctors, hospital discharge planners and former clients who have experience with the agency.
  • How does the agency protect client confidentiality?
  • Is the agency inspected by any outside organization? Ask for the results of the last inspection.
  • Does the agency perform a customer satisfaction survey? Request the results of the most recent survey.
  • Can the agency provide written information about the services they provide?
  • Can the agency provide written information about the rights and responsibilities of the providers, patients and caregivers?

Questions to Ask Professional Caregivers

  • How does the agency select and train care providers?
  • What are the credentials of the caregivers who work for the agency?
  • Does the agency perform criminal background checks or drug testing?
  • Do caregivers work directly for the agency? How are they supervised?
  • Do they consult the patient's physicians and family members?
  • Is the patient's course of treatment documented in a care plan, detailing the specific tasks to be carried out by each caregiver?
  • How are the family, patient and aide educated about the care to be provided?
  • Are nurses or therapists required to evaluate the patient's needs as they change? If so, what does this entail?
  • Will proper care be scheduled at any time of the day or night that my physician says is necessary?
  • Will the same caregiver be sent to my home for each visit?
  • Whom should I call with questions or complaints? How will the agency respond?
  • Can the agency provide me with written information about the services available?
  • Is there a written plan of care for each patient?
  • Does the agency involve the patient and caregivers in designing this plan and educate them about the care provided?
  • How does the agency respond to emergencies? How long is the response time?
  • Will the agency help me find other community services such as Meals on Wheels or homemakers services — or help find medical equipment I may need?
  • What is the procedure if there is not a good fit with the provider and the patient?

Questions About Home Care Costs and Payment

Many people have questions regarding how to pay for home care. Be sure you ask the agencies you speak with the following questions to find out how you can pay for the expenses you will incur:

  • Is the agency certified by Medicare?
  • Are they approved or accepted by the patient's insurance plan or supplemental insurance?
  • How does the agency handle expenses and billing?
  • Do they provide detailed explanations of all the costs associated with prescribed needs?
  • Do they offer any resources toward financial assistance? 

Remember the task at hand is to secure appropriate and compassionate care for your loved one. Though it may seem that ample time is not always given, it is wise to make the time to ask questions and arrive at the answers to your personal satisfaction. A positive experience is possible for everyone involved when you make an informed decision.

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